Thursday, December 20, 2012

I heard a terrific story about Albert Einstein a week or so ago. Seems that Dr. Einstein was working as an adjunct professor at Oxford University and had just given a physics exam to one of his senior classes. As he and his teaching assistant were walking back to Einstein’s office, the young assistant asked, “Dr. Einstein, wasn’t that the same exam you gave to the class last year?”
               “It was indeed,” said Einstein.
               “I don’t understand,” the assistant said. “How could you give the same class the same exam a year later?”
               “Well,” said Einstein, “that’s easy. The answers have changed.”
               I found that a compelling little story. It is indicative of the world in which we now live. Think about it … I wake up to a country that on so many levels is alien to me. What was once virtuous is now a vice; what was once evil is now good; and the church of Jesus Christ, once considered even by unbelievers as a positive thing, is regularly maligned with impunity. In our society, the questions are the same, but the answers have changed.
               Mercy. The claim that it is somehow a sign of a healthy, free society that by the way of a vote we can rewrite our language, turn our morals upside down, and trash our time-tested traditions is a sign of how lost we are.
               Some may consider this and despair. Don’t do that. The tomb is empty and the throne is occupied. Either God is sovereign and rules over the affairs of man, or He doesn’t. I can assure you He is not perched in the heavenlies, wringing His hands, wondering what He is to do next. “I’ve got this,” He wants us to know.
               I wouldn’t presume to try to predict what He is up to. I do know this: We don’t give up hope. One day, God will visit us. He may visit us through revival. I’ve been reading about the 1904 Welsh revival, and man alive, what a joy to see how God worked in those days! And one day, He will visit us in His return, when all wrongs will be set right and all the fierce little kingdoms of this world – including ours – will be reduced to nothingness. The kingdom of God has already come in Jesus Christ, but the final consummation of kingdom is not yet here. That is our blessed hope. We realize that we are pilgrims and sojourners here, because this is not our home. But we are still to engage with culture. If we simply conform to the culture, we would not be salt and light to the culture. If we don’t conform at all, the salt would remain in it the salt shaker and the light under a basket.
               So, don’t let’s give up hope. If you have an unconverted brother or sister, son or daughter … if someone in your family is far from God, don’t give up hope. The Lord could visit tomorrow and they would be saved.  Don’t give up hope in your church. Don’t give up on those who once seemed to seek after the things of God and are now absent from the faith. Let’s work together, and love each other, and strive for good together, because one day our great God and Savior will certainly visit us. He did so in a manger centuries ago, and will again one day soon enough.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

More than chicken.

I’m offering my last thoughts on Chick-fil-A. Maybe this is therapeutic for me.

This past Wednesday I ate at CFA three times. Several other folks ate there, too. I’d be way afield if I tried to interpret the “why’s” – there may be a doctoral dissertation or two that comes out of this phenomenon. Without empirical evidence, my guess is that what began as a show of support of the chain, the Cathy’s, and an affirmation of centuries of orthodox traditional marriage became something that transcended chicken. It became a recognition that we are all Americans, and we have the right to hold our own values and speak our own minds. My engagement in Wednesday’s event was primarily because I felt that a significant line had been crossed. When you go beyond being repulsed by the views someone else holds, and seek to silence their voice – well, I have some real problems with that.

The events of Friday were an interesting, even paradoxical reflection of Wednesday. Because free speech was exercised Wednesday, free speech took place in like fashion Friday. If one group had been silenced, then the rights of the other group would have been threatened, too. I’m grateful to live in a country where these rights are still available to all of us. And as much as I hesitate to use such a loaded word … for mayors of major cities to suggest they would disallow the opening of a business primarily because they disapproved of the business owner’s ethical stance – well, that’s fascism, even by the loosest definition of the word.

Regarding the use of words … it would serve us all well that before we use words like “bigot,” “intolerant,” “hate,” etc., we spend some time gazing in the mirror. It’s easy enough to stand off at a distance and lob firebombs at folks we disagree with. But I can disagree with you passionately and “hate” never be a part of the equation. I have a hunch that the overwhelming majority of the people patronizing Chick-fil-A Wednesday didn’t hate anyone.

Finally, regarding boycotts – this is an easy one. Don’t patronize a company or organization you don’t care for. It is acceptable for you not to put one cent into the coffers of Chick-fil-A, Hobby Lobby, Forever 21, Interstate Batteries, Tyson Foods, In-N-Out Burgers, etc. Granted, the executives of these companies may not be on the public record standing for traditional marriage in the same fashion as did Dan Cathy. But it’s entirely possible, even probable, that they give a tithe to a church that supports traditional marriage. (It occurred to me just this week that, in the eyes of some, I belong to a church that espouses “hate speech,” simply because the church and denomination defines marriage as being between a man and a woman and not between a same-gendered couple.) In like fashion, if someone chooses to not patronize Starbucks, Apple, JC Penney, the Home Depot, etc., that’s fine, too. None of this has squat to do with being bigoted, intolerant, or a hater. It’s simply holding to one’s convictions, and this is the United States – so far, we can still do that. If your convictions preclude you from eating a chicken sandwich or buying craft supplies at Hobby Lobby, or using an iPhone or having AT&T as a service provider, or shopping at Kroger because they sell alcohol, or buying gasoline from Shell because of their connection to OPEC (remember Muslims take an unabashedly hard line against homosexuality), that’s perfectly fine. On a personal level, if someone accuses you of being a bigot, intolerant, whatever, recognize that they have a right to feel that way about you, whether it’s justified or not. Not everyone is going to like you. Imagine that.

All this is sociological talk. But to take it into the Christian realm (and non-believers, feel free to tune all this out) …

I’ve said and written plenty about this already; the blog entry prior to this one was my stab at articulating my beliefs. There is a tendency to play “dueling Bibles” in this discussion … as in, “Your interpretation of scripture doesn’t coincide with my interpretation of scripture.” Indeed. Even now, my denomination is all a-stir over the issue of Calvinism – free will, predestination, all that. That particular debate has been going on for centuries, and it’s not going to be settled in the next couple of weeks. Controversy over interpretation is nothing new.

But if you’re going to use scripture as a means to carry your points, beware. There are right ways and wrong ways to interpret the Bible. Once upon a time, it was the responsibility of scholars, judges, theologians, preachers to find the fixed meaning of a text (the Bible, the Constitution, a thesis), justify it with grammatical and historical arguments, and explain it. It was a matter of integrity to determine what a writer intended. But NOW, it’s common to say that meaning is whatever you see, not what the author intended. From where I stand, based on the best tools I have on hand to interpret scripture, I have concluded that the whole counsel of scripture points toward a definition of marriage as being between one man and woman, in a monogamous relationship for life … and Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:4-6, should you care to isolate one passage, are just about as clear on this matter as one could wish for.

So, with a desire to speak the truth in love, I have long since resolved this issue in my mind and heart. And as I have stated before, I try to balance the conviction of scripture with the compassion Christ Himself showed. He had some pretty harsh words for the Pharisees who were on the verge of stoning the woman caught in adultery, but He also told her to go and sin no more. He loved her, but He judged her, too.

I’ve talked this to death, I know, but I still hear the question, typically couched in terms like – “How can you impose your religious views on others?” I simply have to say that every law on the books is evidence of imposed morality – morality based on a conviction growing out of a particular worldview. Laws are convictions imposed on culture. My conviction comes from God as He has revealed Himself in scripture. Your conviction may come from somewhere else.

Finally, just reiterating a point here for my fellow sojourners: We can anticipate spending the rest of our earthly lives increasingly out of synch with culture. Change is coming, as unstoppable as the tides. It is change that will run counter to all we have held dear. The state may continue to adopt policies that hurt us deeply and devalue us and our beliefs. But we don’t lose heart. We love and we minister in the midst of pain with hearts of joy. We hold fast to our faith, with that blessed hope that one day all the misery in the world will be made right and creation will be redeemed.

In light of this, we stand firm. We don’t back down. And while it’s tackily presumptive to put ourselves in the shoes of Martin Luther, his words carry significant weight as we face our culture, and the temptation to capitulate becomes more attractive: “Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear and distinct grounds and reasoning—and my conscience is captive to the Word of God—then I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God.”

Monday, July 30, 2012

Chick-fil-A and the Christian's paradox

What a week. At first blush, you'd think that the Apocalypse is upon us, and all over fast food.

Unless you've been vacationing on Uranus for the last several days, you are well aware of the firestorm over CFA's Dan Cathy's comments in favor of traditional Christian marriage. (And I'd encourage you to read them in their original context as found on Baptist Press, and not some truncated version from another source.)

While you're at it, note, too, the responses from elected officials. Wow. It has come to this: "Not only do we disagree with you, we want to silence you."

As a Christian, I'm trying to glean from all this something redemptive, while at the same time acknowledging a paradox (and thanks to John Piper who helped me sort all this out.)

We Christians are commanded to not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed. On  the other hand, we are shown that we are to "become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some." See, we live in the middle of a fallen, failing American culture. We aren't to conform to that. But - we are not to give offense, try to please, and become all things to all people so as to save some.

Here are the facts for believers: This country is not our home. We are out of synch, out of step with the  culture. The world recognizes that, and that brings on scorn. We are the ultimate outsiders and pilgrims. On the other hand, we are called on to take on some of the traits of the culture ...if we don't conform at all, then we are the salt trapped in the shaker.

The challenge is to describe homosexuality as sinful while at the same time be willing to lay down our lives in love for homsexual persons. That is what Christ did. To take this thought into even more radical realms, we MUST believe that homosexual behavior is sin in order to love homosexual people. According to First Corinthians, "Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth." If you deny the truth that homosexuality is a sin and instead approve or rejoice in it, what you bring to a homosexual person will not be love, no matter how affirming, kind, or tolerant.

The whole issue, it seems, has found its nexus in the relationship between homosexuality and marriage. Jesus confirmed God's will in creation in Matthew 19:4-6.

The argument which must be considered, if we're to be intellectually honest, is when someone asks, "Why do you impose your religious beliefs on American culture?" Well, all laws impose convictions on culture. All convictions come from worldviews - they don't come out of nowhere. People argue for laws on a basis of a particular view of the world. It follows that Christians should be involved in the business of lawmaking. We should pray and work to shape our culture so that it reflects the revealed will of God, even if that reflection is dim and external. Goodness knows others will be attempting the same thing. So we pray and work that marriage would be understood and treated in our land and government as a lifelong union between a man and woman.

But believers, we do this knowing that we do this with brokenhearted joy. Joy because God is God, sovereign over all, and He will establish justice in His own time in this fallen world. But we are brokenhearted because we will experience pain and misery because of the pain that sin has brought into the world. That should not make us cynical. The salt of the earth does not mock rotting meat. Where it can, it saves and seasons, and where it can't, it weeps.

Look. We can't get all bent when evil triumphs for a season. We don't whine when we don't get our way. We shouldn't be hardened with anger. What's happening isn't new. The early Christians were terribly out of step with their cuture. Jesus Himself said, "You will be hated for my name's sake ... Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you."

We don't own culture, and we don't rule it. We serve it with brokenhearted joy and longsuffering mercy.

Friday, May 4, 2012

When the story gets out of hand.

What do you do if you're writing a story,and it gets out of hand?

It's a bizarre thing. I've been investing pretty heavily putting together the new book, The Fixin' Place. I've been in a nice, tidy place with it. The little story engine was chugging along nicely.Then, last night, I'll be danged if I didn't get gobsmacked in the middle of a thought. I'm not at a place to do any sort of "reveal," because the idea is still pretty raw. Still, I can't help but be excited. I've never really experienced writer's block, but there have been times when I thought what I was writing simply wasn't very compelling - it was loose and disjointed and didn't propel the story along at all.

Now I'm really intrigued at this delicious twist, which has opened the tale up to possiblities I hadn't seen. It makes it darker, scary dark, Darth Vader dark. Still, TFP is a fun story at its heart. At least, it was ...

I thought I'd share an excerpt from an event earlier in the book. Here are my protagonist Thomas and three of his buddies - Button, Danny, and Chuck. They have a camping spot on the shores of a local creek they've claimed as uniquely theirs. It's a Friday night, and they've built a fire, and are just talking in the way that only a bunch of 13-year-old boys can:

            So much of life in those days was of no consequence. What at the time we thought were crises were never that much of a big deal. Of the four of us, I'd had the most life experience, as it were … I'd lost a parent, and while these three guys and others had been by my side, and showed awkward sympathy in their own way, I knew that inside each one of them was saying "thank the Lord it didn't happen to me." We very seldom talked about Daddy's death. What was there to say that hadn't already been said?

            And we were starting to really talk about girls. Danny had a girlfriend, which fascinated the rest of us. Pam wasn't especially cute to me; her eyes were too large for her face, and her ears tended to poke through her long brown hair. Still, she was still a girl, and Danny's girlfriend. It wasn't like the rest of us had to fend off the women. Button had designs on Sarah, and of course there was no chance of that working out in any fashion. Sometimes, when he was over at the house, Sarah would maliciously flirt with him, just to watch him get flustered. "Don't lead him on," I'd tell her, and she'd tell me he was too stupid to know that she was simply messing with him. Maybe he was stupid. Girls can make guys stupid, and it's easier than they think.

            After changing out of our wet shorts into dry clothes, we unpacked our humble little supper. Sardines and potted meat and saltine crackers were the main entrees - potted meat looked like cat food, and I imagine tasted about the same, but we ate it anyway. The pimento cheese sandwiches were a hit. Chuck, who never contributed food, shared a couple of bags of M&M's, which vanished in no time. So did the Golden Flake chips. I hid the Oreos for later that night.

            As soon as the sun began to set we gathered firewood and Button, our Boy Scout, began obsessing over arranging the kindling in just the right pattern in the fire pit. I'd enjoyed Scouting myself, but our scoutmaster died a year earlier and the troop just wasn't the same. So I'd quit. Button had brought a mayonnaise jar full of gasoline to get the fire started - "Boy Scout miracle water" he called it - and a few judicious drops on the dry wood did the trick. How we survived our campouts is a mystery to me.

            There is nothing silent about the forest at night. In the background was the gentle rush of flowing water. More in the foreground were all the bug noises - cicadas, grasshoppers, katydids, and the whine of mosquitos. Then, as a bonus, we'd hear that eerie call of a barred owl … no matter how many times I'd heard it, it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

            "Who cooks for you?" said Danny, mimicking the sound of the owl. "Who cooks for you-all?"

            We huddled a bit closer to the fire, grinning at each other. We'd never admit that we were scared, but truthfully, we never camped out without being scared. I'd look at the woods on the opposite bank of the creek, and every shadow, every movement was something unearthly bent on killing us.

            Button was the raconteur of our group. "Indians used to camp here," he said. "I've never found any arrowheads, but my brother has a coffee can full of arrowheads he's collected from the creek banks." 

            Button then launched into a monologue about the Creek Indians who once lived in the St. Helena area, talking about their history and folklore. We were intrigued. Button was by far the smartest one of our group, and his mind trapped the most trivial of details. So he talked about Creek myths, about how they taught the world was created by a crawfish flipping mud out of a river bottom, and how an eagle flew over and the wind from its wings dried the mud into dry land. I thought it was all really fascinating.

            It was when Button started talking about the wendigo that all three of us perked up. "Whenever an Indian lost his mind and went crazy, his people would say that he had ‘seen the wendigo.'"

            "What's a wendigo?" asked Danny, walking blindly into Button's trap.

            "Well," Button said, leaning in close to the fire as though drawing us into a conspiracy, "the wendigo is an evil forest spirit, a manitou. It looks like a starving man, with gray skin pulled really tight over its bones. What lips it has are all ragged and bloody, and the wendigo smells like rotted meat."

            We loved this.

            "And they are cannibals," Button continued, his eyes glinting in the firelight. "They are always hungry. And an Indian could turn into a wendigo if he ever ate another person."

            What we didn't know at the time was that wendigos were not part of Creek culture at all. Wendigos were a common myth among northern and Canadian tribes, in places where it was much colder and starvation was a constant threat. Button, who was of the mind that the truth should never get in the way of a good story, had us right where he wanted us.

            "I wonder how much truth there is to those old stories," he said.

            "It might have been truth to the Creeks," I said, "but there aren't any Creeks around here now."

            "Still," said Button, "those old stories had to start somewhere."

            Danny wasn't finding this too funny. "C'mon, y'all. Knock it off." He looked uneasily from side to side.

            Danny's increasing unease wasn't wasted on Button. "I know this sounds crazy," he said, "but my brother was camping out down the creek from here last year and he found a big ol' kettle over a fire pit on the banks. And there were cat bones in it."

            "What to cat bones have to do with wendigos?" asked Chuck. He was getting a little creeped out himself.

            "Well, if someone would eat cats, they'd eat anything," said Button.

            "There's a big difference in eating cats and eating people," I said. "And it's not exactly like the woods are crawling with Creek Indians who've been messing around with a wendigo."

            "That's not entirely true," said Button, smiling slyly. "What about the Littlefoots?"

            We all knew the Littlefoots. This was a family of Creek Indians who had lived in St. Helena for as long as anyone could remember. They weren't full-blooded; there had been plenty of generations of intermarriage, and the end result was that the kids - a couple of them were classmates of ours, and the girl, Marie, was in the homecoming court last year - were just like the rest of us. But the grandmother, known only to St. Helena as "Sister," was still very much the full-blooded Creek. She was seldom seen in public, but when she was, it looked like she'd stepped out of a painting.

            "So what you're saying," said Chuck, "is that the Littlefoots come down here to the creek every so often and cook up some cats. And they'd cook white folks if they could get ahold of any."

            "No, I'm not saying that, idiot," said Button in mock anger. "I'm just saying we still have Creek Indians around, and that Sister might believe in all those old myths because there's some truth in them." Button was laying a whopper on us. There was something, though, about being in those woods, away from civilization (if only by a mile or so), that tended to add weight to his wild tale.

            "Wendigos in the woods right now. Riiiiiight," said Chuck. "And crazed Indians. Good Lord, Button. We aren't stupid."

            "Never said you were," said Button. "I just think that there are a lot of things we think are just made-up stories that might just be kinda true."

            "This is all stupid," said Danny, trying to sound brave. His eyes were like saucers - he was anything but brave. "Ain't nuthin' gonna get us."

            "Danny," said Button, with a sigh, "you are so right. Nothing is gonna get us. I'm just telling a story, and I'm just telling you what my brother found. That's all."

            Even though I knew Button was trying to scare us, I didn't want him to know that he was succeeding. "Tell you what," I said. "Tomorrow, when it's good daylight, you take us to that place on the creek where Johnny found that iron pot. Maybe this time we won't find a cat. Maybe a thigh bone or something."

            "I don't know exactly where it was," said Button.

            "That's because you're making all this stuff up," said Chuck, trying to dredge up a little courage.

            "No, I'm not," said Button, "and you know it."

            I thought I needed to intervene. "Button, geez, it doesn't matter if you're making all this up or not. It's a cool story, and I don't care if it's true. And I don't want to find a pot, with cat bones or anything else in it. Danny, don't get all weirded out. Button is just messing with you. Aren't you, Button?"

            Button smiled a little. "We're just talkin'."

            Everyone got quiet for a little while. Chuck got up and threw a couple of bigger logs on the fire. Sparks and embers flew. I hoped they didn't land in the Spanish moss and set the woods on fire.

"What was that?" hissed Button.

            I was sound asleep. It had taken a while. After clearing my sleeping space of sticks and leaves, I'd scooped out some sand to make an indentation in the ground for my hips to wallow down into. I lay there awake for the longest time, hearing the night insects, and shivering at the sound of owls hooting and answering each other.

            "What was what?"

            "Listen. That."

            I didn't hear "that." The other guys were snoring away, effectively drowning out any other noise.

            I tried not to breathe, straining my ears. I couldn't hear anything at first.

            Then I did. Somewhere in the woods, out away from the creek and back down the trail toward my house, I heard a definite animal sound.

            Uff. Uff. Uff.

            Button scooted toward me like a little child. "What is that?"

            "Shhhh," I said. Then -

            Uff. Uff. Uff. It was a deep, guttural noise, much closer.

            "Thomas …"

            "Shut up." I was trying to figure out what to do. I didn't have any sort of weapon, and I was pretty much pinned into my sleeping bag.

            There was a rustling in the underbrush, and I had to fight an urge to close my eyes. I heard Button suck air between his teeth.
(to  be continued)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What scares you?

I think most, if not all, of us have things that give us chills. Your particular fear might not be classified as a full-blown phobia, but it might be enough to cause you to develop sweaty palms, at least.

Me, I'm afraid of heights. I don't mind being way off the ground if there is a rail for me to hang onto, but put me close to some sort of ledge where there's nothing between me and eternity but air, and I'm in a real fix. I don't do ladders. Don't put me on the roof. I don't even like writing about these things.

YMMV, as they say. Public speaking puts some folks into a gibbering panic. Others have problems with snakes. Or spiders. Fill in your own blanks.

What happens when you scare yourself? Where does that come from?

One bizarre phenomenon I've experienced is that I can become afraid of my own words. When I was writing my first book ("Reign of Silence," of course - what do you mean you haven't read it yet?) there were a couple of times when I had to stop and physically shake off the heebie-jeebies. As I think I've shared before, I wrote a huge chunk of it in an old farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere, and there was one night in particular when I heard every noise in the house. Whew.

Now, as I'm in the throes of writing "The Fixin' Place," I've had a couple of moments of the same thing. While TFP is a totally different book from "Reign of Silence," there have been a couple of sequences that, while not exactly frightening me, have had me typing at a gallop, pulse pounding. It's as though my synapses can't fire fast enough for me to keep up with what I want to say. Yeah, I know how odd that sounds, but I'm just trying to keep it real.

I don't know how to explain it other than that my divine muse showed up. Those moments are transporting. And for you ... you might be at a place in your own life where you're struggling with some issue, some project, some relationship that is wearing you down. Well, here's the good news. Fear not. It's going to be OK.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A couple of book recommendations if you're ambitious ...

... and paralyzed.

Both of these are by Steven Pressfield, perhaps best known for "The Legend of Bagger Vance," but who also writes killer historical fiction.

First is "Do the Work," and the second is "The War of Art."

I'm passing these gems along to any of you who are dreaming of doing "something." While they're both pitched toward writers, they're just super for anyone who is going after conquering some creative endeavor. I think the principles here would apply to anyone who is trying to get physically fit, recover from a broken heart, or going after any objective that would move you to a higher plane of work. Any act that calls for a commitment of the heart fits in here.

The demon he addresses is "resistance"... or, if you prefer, fear, self-doubt, procrastination, addiction, distraction, timidity, ego and narcissism, self-loathing, perfectionism, etc.

Pressman encourages us to be stupid. He says, "A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. It's only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and heisitate."

In other words, when faced with a task, especially a creative one - don't think. Act.

I live for stuff like this. I'd recommend "Do the Work" first, which is kind of a greatest hits version of "The War of Art." Pressman doesn't sugarcoat anything, and sometimes a kick in the nether regions is just what we need.

Check 'em out.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

As good as it gets.

From time to time, I'm asked what my favorite book is.

My totally non-commital answer is "it depends." For many years, I read "The Lord of the Rings" every summer, and I spent months and months reading the whole trilogy to our son Jeremy. Honestly, Tolkien may not be the best writer, but he is an amazing storyteller. For him to create Middle Earth and populate it with such an amazing cast of characters - man alive. The book(s) are full of their own internal logic. While some might grouse about the difficulty of keeping up with all the people and places and things, and might get bogged down in the history/mythology of the Third Age - well, quitcherbellyachin. Maybe Tolkien isn't for you. But I love it.

Pin me down, though, and I'll tell you that my favorite work of fiction is "To Kill a Mockingbird." I just re-read it last week, and immediately followed that experience by watching the film version.

Harper Lee is one of those people the Almighty blessed with insane talent, and He went on to bless the rest of us by allowing her to come down and walk around among us mortals. I read the book last week at a gallop, and it was still fresh. Were it published for the first time today, it might be positioned as a Young Adult novel (although I'm still vague about what that really is.) What a cast of characters! I loved Scout Finch so much that I wanted to call our daughter Amy "Scout." You can imagine how far that got. Watching Jem go from being a kid to a young man is one of the best character arcs ever. And - no kidding - I just think Atticus Finch is the greatest literary hero of the 20th century. He is a man full of grave dignity. He's just "decent." And a prisoner of conscience.

Part of the appeal, too, was the setting in Maycomb, Alabama (a thinly veiled Monroeville.) I knew the town and I knew the people. Whatever else you might say about Miss Harper, she knew how to write truth. She paced her story perfectly, and it is full of wry observations on life. It also has one of the most subtle yet powerful explorations of race relations I've ever seen. The book is simply transcendent.

I aspire to writing something like that. The problem that challenges many authors, I'll wager, is whether to write commercially or whether to write your heart story. Well, can't you do both?

Listen. I'm working like a dog on "The Fixin' Place" these days. When I don't worry, at least in the first draft, whether it's any good or not, magic happens. It's as though angel midwives congregate around me when I'm just being a slave to the story. This is serious ju ju. I can't explain it, but I do embrace it. So will it be as good as "To Kill a Mockingbird?" That's just about the most ignorant question anyone could ask. How dare I be so arrogant! Candidly, to compare what I'm doing to what anyone else is doing or has done is just stupid. But here's what I can do: I can assure myself that what the fininshed product looks like will be the very best I am capable of producing. I can do nothing less.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"The Artist" and risk-taking

I've decided not to be apologetic about being a consumer of popular culture. I like movies. I like TV. We watch reality shows. I'm taking a break for an hour from writing to watch "The River." I watched the Oscars without guilt.

There were four of the Best Picture nominees that I would have been perfectly content to see win one of those little baldheaded gold men. But I was rooting for "The Artist," even though "War Horse" was the best picture of 1938, and I had a special spot for "The Help," because it took place right here in town, and I got to meet Emma Stone while they were filming at the state capitol, right across from where I work. (An annoying aside ... she told me "you are the greatest." That was in response to me saying that "for you to get to play Skeeter is like Gregory Peck getting to play Atticus Finch." I got a hug for that one.)

Anyway. I rooted for "The Artist" because (a) I'm a huge fan of silent movies - D.W. Griffith is a hero of mine, and (b) it showed evidence of a colossal risk taken by the film makers. I mean, in a year that produced "Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon" and "The Artist," which was the safe bet and which one wasn't? - and (c) it was a darn good movie, and blessed my heart.

Granted, "The Artist" had a minimal budget and box office receipts have been modest, at best. Still, what we have is a movie that, against all conventional wisdom, managed to walk away with a trifecta -Best Picture, Director, Actor. No small feat.

Think director Michel Hazanavicius faced any naysayers along the way? You bet he did. Yet I want to believe that he was so consumed with love for his project, and believed down to his corpuscles that he had something to share with the world, that he did whatever it took to get his story on the screen. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

This should encourage you. It sure did me. What is it that is driving you these days? What is a dream you cherish that is so personal and so insane that you just KNOW no one would understand it but you? And that perceived lack of understanding has paralyzed you.

My sense is that there are about a gazillion folks out there who are robbing the world of a blessing because they are listening to other voices, imagined or real. The voices are saying that "you can't do this", or "that's a stupid idea", or "you don't have the talent/ability/luck/breaks to make it happen."

Well, poop on 'em. Do what you should be doing. Fulfill what the Almighty God placed you here on this earth for a season to do. If you fail, then at least you've failed while attempting something amazing ... and remember, to fail does not mean that YOU'RE a failure. And if you succeed, then, by golly, the universe is going to be a better place.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Sneak preview of the new book!

I don't know if this is good form or not, but I thought I'd share the first few pages of "The Fixin' Place," my latest obsession. Understand that the completion is several months away, but I think if I'm at least sort of accountable to some of you, then I'll be more likely to not get stonewalled along the way. Enjoy, and feel free to post any comments. I'd appreciate it!!

I remember the first dead person I ever saw. Uncle Jack – actually, he was a great-uncle - was one of those relatives who seemed to me when growing up to be older than time itself. My recollection of him was of a man, stooped in such a way that he looked like a living comma, with his head valiantly held erect so that he could at least see where he was going rather than looking at the ground. He came back from World War I shell-shocked, as the term used to be, and was prone to mutter to himself in idle moments. Someone said that in his last days, as he slipped in and out of a coma, that he believed the Germans were after him again. I was glad I was spared hearing him rant. Just thinking about it disturbed me. I was seven years old.

I guess Mama and Daddy felt that insulating Sarah and me from death was not the right thing to do. It is not as though they rubbed my nose in it. They came from the generation of rural Alabamians who didn't treat death like the sterile and distant event it is now. In their days, someone died and the body would lay in state in the house, usually in the parlor. Uncle Jack had made the comment that he sure didn’t want to be left up at the funeral home by himself. His reasoning was that if the family had been able to put up with him all those years, one more night wouldn’t hurt.

And, of course, that wish was honored. Uncle Jack and Aunt Belinda’s house was one of a half-dozen on a dirt road that wandered off Highway 137 about five miles out of St. Helena, going southeast toward the Canaan community. Aunt Belinda kept a neat and well-groomed yard. Their house was in front of a row of six chicken houses, the smell of which hovered close to the ground, a musky, organic odor which wasn’t entirely unpleasant. I believed then, as I do now, that chickens are some of the nastiest creatures to inhabit God’s earth, but Uncle Jack loved them and they had given him a good living.

Their house had belonged to Aunt Belinda’s parents, who had long since passed. The house’s front porch sagged in spots, and the boards creaked and popped when we walked across them to the front door. Mama and Daddy nodded and spoke gravely to the various kinfolks and friends who were huddled in sad little knots on the porch and in the yard. Death was very much a social event.

I didn’t know what to expect when we entered the parlor. There was Aunt Belinda, clutching a hankie, her eyes bright and large, as though she were trying to look chipper. Their twin girls, Anna and April, were there, along with their husbands and children. I barely knew them – Anna and her family lived in Columbus, Georgia, and April and her brood lived all the way out in Midland, Texas, which to my mind was as distant as Babylon. Everyone was whispering, as though Uncle Jack might be offended if someone spoke too loudly. Sarah, two years older than me, crowded up alongside Mama as though she wanted to bury her face in Mama’s skirts. I just wanted to see what the fuss was about.

Daddy obliged me. Uncle Jack was actually Mama’s father’s brother, but I learned later that Jack and Daddy had been closer than I had realized. I looked up at Daddy, and saw that the muscles in his jaw were working, as though he wanted to say something but was restraining himself. I noticed, too, that while the smell from the chicken houses was noticeable in the parlor, there were other odors – of baked goods, of fried meats, and one unidentifiable medicinal aroma – that competed for attention.

Daddy walked me toward the casket, which seemed huge to me, and the people standing close by parted as we approached. The casket gleamed in the dim light and was sitting on a steel cart covered by a drapery. I wondered why the lights were so low – it wasn’t as though Uncle Jack would be bothered by just a bit more illumination – but when I got my first look at him, my questions didn’t seem all that important.

I was just tall enough to peek over the pleated and ruffled edge of the lining of the casket. My eyes were about level with Uncle Jack’s nose, which I remembered to be mottled with spider veins. His nose was the first thing I noticed, because I had never known him to have such a clear complexion. Like the dorsal fin on a dolphin, it rose above his face in stoic grandeur, and was a translucent and perfect peach color. After I got home, I got down my box of Crayolas – the sixty-four count box with the little plastic sharpener in the side – and sure enough, I had a crayon that matched his nose perfectly.

The other thing I noticed was his mouth, stretched way too taut and thin. It seemed to begin and end too far along his cheeks, like the corners of his lips were split. The whole effect was one of a clown’s face without the white and red makeup. That, and the total immobility of his whole face, is something I can yet see in my mind’s eye after all these years. It was as though he were a stranger wearing an Uncle Jack mask. It just wasn’t him. That intrigued me.

Aunt Belinda had appeared at our side during my time of study, and made some comment or another, something to the effect of “isn’t he sweet,” and Daddy cordially responded with another bizarre comment – “he does look good.” And I’m standing there thinking, well, he looks dead to me. Daddy’s shoulders had begun to shake, just a little, and his jaws were all knotted up again. I turned around to check to see what Mama and Sarah were doing, and Mama was already crying, as I knew she would. Sarah was, and is, the kind of girl who was prone to cry when other folks did. This time, though, she wasn’t crying – she was just standing there in abject horror, pale and rooted to the spot. That was as close as she ever got to the casket.

I turned back to observe Uncle Jack again. He hadn’t moved, although it would have been alarming if he had. I felt two separate sets of hands on my shoulders – Daddy on one side, and Anna’s husband’s on the other. I guess they thought I would faint, or needed to be restrained because I might run from the house screaming, so they were probably disappointed when I did neither.

I did make it out of the house and into the yard. Several people were eyeing me, evaluating me, to see if I had survived this rite of passage. I felt like I had been initiated into some arcane club – I had seen a dead person. Looking back, I suppose it was a life-changing experience for me. Nevertheless, I just didn’t see the big fuss over a corpse. I was more interested in going out back to peek into the chicken houses, and thought it would be fun to throw some little stones at those wretched birds just to watch them flap and squawk. I didn’t want to hurt any of them, but I figured they might appreciate a change in their routine and boring lives. Uncle Jack wouldn’t have anything to say about it, that’s for sure.

There was some debate between Mama and Daddy as to whether or not Sarah and I would be allowed to attend the funeral the next day. In the end, they decided that we should both go. At seven, it was supposed that I would be oblivious as to what was going on, and that I had weathered seeing Uncle Jack laying up there as a corpse just fine. So I was forced to put on the starchiest white shirt you can imagine, which I thought was going to rub my neck raw, along with a ridiculous bow tie and shorts with suspenders. Sarah was dressed in multiple layers of petticoats, and I wasn’t sure if the funeral was more about how nice we looked more so than how Uncle Jack looked. I guess subconsciously Mama and Daddy wanted us to look better than the dead man, although I’m sure they would have denied it.

I’d been to “big church” a few times before, although I found it to be stifling and way too long to have to sit still. Well, the funeral was a thousand times worse than big church ever was. For one thing, folks were all grim and mournful, with most of the women clutching little crumpled tissues and the men looking like they’d been drinking pickle juice. Second, when the preacher got around to doing his part, the congregation was already wrung out with manufactured emotion. It’s like people were trained to cry on cue. A lady named Mrs. Honeycutt sang “Abide With Me,” and it was just awful – it’s like someone had pinched her with pliers. Then the preacher prayed, and read some scripture, something about “the resurrection and the life,” and it made no sense at all. Then Mrs. Honeycutt wrapped her nasally voice around “In the Garden,” and I wondered who “Andy” was, because there was this one line that went, “Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me, Andy tells me I am his own,” and I thought the song was supposed to be about Jesus.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the preacher mounted the pulpit and did his very best to make everyone cry some more. His face was all pinched up and his brow was furrowed, as though he had gas pains, and again he took off on something about how we were all going to be raised incorruptible – I wasn’t sure what all that meant, but it did have something about dead bodies coming out of the ground, and for a little while he had my attention, because I thought that would be something to see.

But he lost me soon afterwards, and I got to looking at the stained glass windows, which were a frosty blue and had no designs other than swirls and smears, which reminded me of an aquarium. I had managed to sit still – Mama had already threatened me – but I’d had enough. But then the preacher “amened,” and the family was asked to rise, and we got to march out in front of the casket, which had been closed all this time.

At Aunt Belinda’s request, the casket was reopened so we could all get one last look at Uncle Jack, which I thought was pointless, because we’d already had plenty of opportunities to inspect him. My parents weren’t aware that I’d been privy to the conversation they’d had the night before, saying that the casket should have stayed closed, because it might upset everyone and undo all the good the preacher had tried to accomplish in giving some comfort and closure. I’ve since learned that funerals bring out the strangest things in people, and Aunt Belinda had insisted on the casket being opened once more, so there you are.

Turns out Mama and Daddy were right. As soon as Aunt Belinda walked in front of the casket, she let out a wail that caused the whole congregation to gasp in unison, and before it registered with anyone what was about to happen, Aunt Belinda had reached down into the casket, grabbed Uncle Jack under his shoulders, and lifted him upright in the casket to a sitting position. His head flopped backwards like it was on a hinge, and Aunt Belinda hollered “OH JACK” as she threw her own head back, too. Then she wailed.

Anna and April’s husbands sprang into action, with one of them prying Aunt Belinda loose while the other, grimacing, tried to gently lower Uncle Jack back down. The preacher stood by stupidly, watching this spectacle.

Uncle Jack didn’t want to cooperate; he was already pretty stiff, even though his neck was still pliable, and April’s husband Freddie was trying valiantly to get him arranged back in place. The funeral director and two of his henchmen shooed Freddie away and managed to situate Uncle Jack back into the casket, and just as efficiently clamped the lid down.

By this time, of course, the congregation had absorbed this drama with a blend of horror and fascination. The pallbearers were able to wheel the casket down the long center aisle of the church and out toward the front door – family members and the other congregants had to part to let them get by. The ritual of the funeral, choreographed like a Broadway musical, had been disrupted beyond repair, so the best that could be hoped for was a semi-dignified graveside service. I don’t know how it all ended – Mama went on to the graveside, and Daddy pulled Sarah and me aside, with the promise of popsicles later.

If I live to be a thousand, I’ll never forget Uncle Jack’s funeral. This, I believe, was what started my lifelong fascination with death. And it was also the first time that I began thinking about God and heaven and other things I was expected to believe in, just because it was the way I was raised. If a belief in God was supposed to bring comfort, I sure didn’t see anything very comforting that morning, and even at seven years old, I decided that God was pretty much a myth, and was done with Him. No hard feelings.

That’s how I felt then. It was six years later that I came to understand that while death can’t be avoided, it can be postponed. Or even reversed.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The "D" word (discipline!)

Ah, discipline. Something that in my flesh I don't have much of.

Last night I was working at the new book, which I think is coming along nicely. But I didn't start work on it until I'd watched "Survivor." Honestly, I love TV, and I can rationalize all day on why it's important for me to have that hour of down time after a day at work and an evening ministering with some great teenagers at church.

Still. I used up a potentially productive hour on something that was inconsequential at best.

I've noticed that if I get slack in one area of life, it impacts other areas as well. That's one reason I don't buy into the whole "compartmentalization" concept. For instance, if I'm lazy at writing, I'm more likely to slough off in areas of health and exercise. I've done such a great job at taking care of myself this past year, as shown by a significant weight loss, to lose ground now is unacceptable. And if my spiritual life is neglected, I'm more likely to be less frugal. All these life components are connected by a fragile web, and if one strand goes slack or breaks, the whole system suffers.

Here's my conclusion. It doesn't have to be yours. But if I am taking care of my soul, seeking after God single-mindedly, a whole host of things happen: It's easier to maintain my health, weight loss goals, and proper nutrition (and portion control!) I'm more likely to be productive and turn out good stuff when I write. I'm more conscious of stewardship and thinking in terms of how I can manage my blessings. And I actually think I'm a better husband and father.

This does not come naturally - I'm a creature of flesh, just like you and everyone else. But, if you're a believer, then knowing God is the most important thing in your life. And the better you know Him, the closer you get to Him, then the more likely you are to submit to His Lordship in all the areas of life.

Does that mean that if you're fat, you don't love Jesus? I didn't say that. But I will state that the more intimate you are with the Almighty, the more you'll be assured that He can, and does, rule all areas of your life.

Thanks for indulging me in a little homily this morning. Have a terrific day!

Monday, February 20, 2012

So, is it autobiographical?

At this writing, I'm at Lake DeGray State Resort near Hot Springs, Arkansas. I had the opportunity to do a little magic for a group of Arkansas Baptist leaders and families, and we had a great time. (Magic is just one of those hobbies that got out of hand - check out if you're so inclined.)

One attendee had heard about "Reign of Silence" from a Facebook posting and like a lot of readers had a boatload of questions. His main question, though? "Is it autobiographical?"

I sure can't speak for other authors, but in my case, as a fiction writer, the answer is ... just a little. I am NOT my protagonist, Joshua. But as far as some of the scenes - there is an occasional smidgen of truth. They say "write what you know," and that's what I did.

I have a quirky theory. I think there is a little guy who resides in your mind. It's his job to keep the more bizarre parts of your subconscious all bottled up and safe, because if it were to seep out too much, you'd be committed to a little room and spend the rest of your life writing in crayon. BUT - sometimes during dreams, and sometimes in creative moments, he lets some of that stuff ooze out into our conscious mind. And we're compelled to write about it. For me, that's why when I'm in the zone and there's some serious juju going on, I write stuff I don't even know. Those characters take on lives of their own and I have to work like the dickens just to keep up. I know plenty of writers go to extraordinary length to plot every setpiece, but my brain doesn't work that way. I began Reign of Silence thinking one particular major character was going to die, and I was just delighted when they didn't. 

Weird, I know, but there y'are.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What drives you?

That's not just a lame academic question. My theological understanding of "call" informs me that every one of us is here for a purpose. At the risk of sounding like a fortune cookie, I'll state outright that YOU, yes you, have a destiny.

What is it? Well, you may just spend the rest of your life hammering out what you're supposed to be doing. I'd imagine that there may be one reader out there who is droning away at the practice of law, for instance. He cares nothing for it - it's good money, it has unique challenges, but it's just not him.

Sir, get up some gumption. Don't worry so much about following your parents' desires for your life. Don't get caught up in some weird "image" issue, as in: "What would others think?" If you have family, make sure that they're cared for and will continue to be cared for.

And then - take the necessary steps to become a white water rapids guide. And do it before you get too old. The universe will thank you for being truthful.

If that sounds too far fetched, try this: Keep the day job, because it pays the bills. And figure out how to do what you really love, what makes you passionate, the One Thing that ratchets up your pulse rate. Don't settle for a life of "I shoulda's."

If the call is to write, guess what. You can do it, and what's more, you can make your work available to millions with a couple of keystrokes.

This is a terrific time to be alive.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Well, HI, Barnes and Noble!

Gonna keep this brief, but I just saw where Barnes & Noble has "Reign of Silence" available for sale. I hate to be such a total novice about these things, but if you want it and your local store doesn't have it, they can get it for you. How about that! And Amazon has it too, of course.

I've stated this in other places, but if you have a book in you, just write the stupid thing. Don't wait for your muse to show up. Just DO it. Write like the devil were chasing you. Write junk - you'll be doing more than one draft anyway.

And when you've written, and re-written, and gotten trusted friends and family to proof the dickens out of it, understand this: the gatekeepers are no more. While I think it's worth the effort to find an agent, and then a publisher, you have this amazing level playing field. Get over any stigma you might have about epublishing. Your readers don't care how it got in their hands. I mean ... how many absolutely splendid books never saw the light of day because they were strangled at birth by someone who didn't "get it?" Lordy, "The Help" was turned down by scores of agents, something like 60. Which means ... there are 59 agents out there dealing with utter depression.

If you've got it in you, you owe SOMEONE in the world the opportunity to share in your creation. Go for it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

It's fun being interviewed!

Recently I did an online interview with Wendy Siefken. She and her son have a terrific blog/website that you need to check out. I know this is long, but I thought their questions were very insightful. Check 'em out at So, here's the Q and A.

What makes for a good hook in your
stories? Where does your inspiration come from?
The best hook I can think of is to populate my
stories with “everymen” and “everywomen.” Characters readers can identify with.
With “Reign of Silence,” I thought putting purely ordinary, conservative
Christian folks into extraordinary circumstances that challenged their whole
belief system was pretty compelling. As for inspiration … that’s an elusive
thing. I can’t remember if it was Zane Gray or Louis L’amour who said this, but
it was something to the effect that “turn on the faucet and the water will
flow.” In other words, you can’t really wait on inspiration. You just hunch over
the keyboard and start working.
Are you an organized writer? Do you do things
like take notes and make lists of characters? Or do you free write
and work it out as you go?
I’m not one to sit down and do detailed
character analyses, or work out an initial plot. I do make notes, or dictate
thoughts into my iPhone as they occur, which tends to be when I’m in a meeting,
watching TV, or when I’m disengaged from the actual chore of writing. What
happened with “Reign of Silence” is that I had my two or three main characters
firmly in mind, and the rest of the cast I just got to know as I wrote. My
technique, which may or may not be proper – I sure don’t know – is just to put
the characters in some situation and watch them try to get out of it. I took a
week off from work to put in some concentrated time on “Reign of Silence,”
sequestering myself in an old farmhouse and writing pretty much nonstop. I wrote
close to two-thirds of the book in that one week. This kind of freaks some
people out, but it got to where I was just transcribing what was happening and
being said. One night I called my wife and said, “You’re not going to believe
what just happened.” There was a significant twist toward the end of the book
that I didn’t see coming, and where it got really weird for me was when during
the first revision, I found that there was some foreshadowing earlier in the
book pointing toward that twist. I never planned or plotted for
What is your normal writing day like? Do
you write when you are inspired or do you have a schedule?
I’m one of the most despised of all humankind,
in that I’m a morning person. So I get up around 5 or so and put in about 90
minutes of writing. My wife is in bed, the dogs aren’t up, and it’s a perfect
time for me because that’s when my synapses tend to fire. I don’t set a word or
page goal. I just do what I can in that time allotted and let it go. Then, in
the evenings, I may put in another hour, but I’m not bound to that. I will say,
too, that I do NOT self-edit in the early stages. I just write in almost a
stream of consciousness mode, because I know I’ll come back and tidy and tighten
up. As I said, if I waited until I was inspired, nothing would ever get done. I
just do it. It’s pretty much a blue-collar exercise. I don’t think of myself as
an “artist.” In my mind it’s more like nailing shingles on a roof, or putting
mulch in a flower bed. Its work, and it’s not glamorous in the least.
Who is your favorite author and how did
they inspire you to write?
That “favorite author” question is tough. My
all-time favorite work of fiction is “Lord of the Rings,” the whole trilogy, but
I wouldn’t consider Tolkein my favorite author. I guess Harper Lee comes the
closest to being a favorite; her style and storytelling ability blows me away,
and I identified strongly with the story she told. I knew every character in “To
Kill a Mockingbird” personally – I grew up in a small Alabama town just like
Macomb, Alabama. And I remember after I read my first Stephen King book (“Salem’s
Lot”), I thought – this guy is telling just the kind of story I want to hear.
Same with Frank Peretti, although I think his earlier stuff was his best. I’ll
admit to being a sucker for what some detractors might consider “commercial”
writers – fellow Mississippian John Grisham comes immediately to mind. Not so
much Dan Brown, who’s written the same book three times. Hard to argue with
success, though!
It’s easy to see that you have a passion
for writing but is there any part of it you don’t like?
Is there any part of writing that I don’t like?
Honestly, no. There is a certain amount of discipline involved, certainly, and
if I’m not careful I can get derailed by trivial things. But I jotted down a
quote from a gentleman named Mark Batterson, from his book, “The Circle Maker”:
“Too many authors worry about whether or not their book will get published. The
question is this: Are you called to write? That’s the only question you need to
answer. And if the answer is yes, then you need to write the book as an act of
obedience. It doesn’t matter whether anyone reads it or not.” So, for me, yeah,
it’s a calling.
Do you make time to read and if you do what are
you reading right now?
I absolutely make time to read. I just finished
the Hunger Games trilogy, and it read like a streak. I was the last in the
family to get around to reading it, and it was so well-paced I was sucked right
in. Worked for me. One cool thing about Kindle and Amazon is you can take a
chance on an unknown author (like me!) and not feel as though you’ve coughed up
an undue amount of cash on a potential dud. So I’ve started on a two-book series
by Aiden James, Terror X 2. The premise of these two intrigues me. I tend to
read two books at a time, something fiction and something non-fiction. I’m also
reading “Radical” by David Platt.
How did you get into writing about the
Christian/supernatural, two topics that always seem to be at odds with each
other? Is there personal life experience in the
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been
intrigued by ghosts. So I wanted to try my hand at a pure, “classical” ghost
story – a haunted house, bumps in the night, whispers and manifestations, the
whole deal. The phenomenon of ghosts and hauntings is almost a cultural
universal – you find it worldwide, in all periods of history. So, as a
Christian, how do you interpret this? As a Christian and a minister, I have to
acknowledge – biblically – that my faith deals with the supernatural, most
obviously in teachings about angels and demons, and certainly also in belief in
an afterlife. What happens when these worlds intersect? So I don’t see these two
topics as being at odds with each other. If I’m asked, “Tony, do you believe in
ghosts?” I say that I do. Now as far as what a “ghost” actually IS, well, we’ve
got a lot of room for speculation, and that is at the heart of “Reign of
Silence.” It isn’t that I was consciously trying to break ground, but I just
couldn’t find any stories that dealt with hauntings from a Christian worldview.
Regarding personal life experiences … well … yeah. There have been a couple of
instances in my life, and in the lives of extended family, in which we’ve faced
events that just simply can’t be explained away by “rational” means. The book,
then, has a couple of mildly autobiographical events. Freaky, yes?
Your books have been published with,
Does this mean you see the publishing industry headed this
My book is indeed available on Amazon via
Kindle, and we’re working on it being available again in hardcopy. I wrote
“Reign of Silence” years ago, self-published through Xulon Press (they did a
terrific job), and it actually did pretty well for a season. Then, when I made
it available on the Kindle in December of 2011, I was absolutely blown away at
how I sold – sold ­– roughly twice as many books in one month as I did in
the previous six years. It was an epiphany for me. All of a sudden, the old line
gatekeepers were marginalized. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t be delighted if
an agent represented me – I probably approached forty or so – and I got that
elusive book deal. It’s just killer when an agent tells you how wonderful your
book was but it “isn’t marketable.” Now, the rules have changed, big-time. I
can’t help but wonder how many absolutely splendid books never saw the light of
day because of those “guardians.” I’m imagining that there are publishers out
there who are feeling sort of like Kodak. If a writer can shuck any thoughts of
self-publishing being some sort of stigma, no matter what the medium, then the
playing field is pretty doggone level. The downside is that there is plenty of
garbage out there now, too, but I’m thinking market forces prevail
Do you have any online sites where
others can read more of your writings?
Readers can keep up with what I’m up to on my
blog (, and I’ll put samples of what I’m
doing from time to time. I haven’t done a dedicated website yet, but that’s
certainly a possibility.
Do you have any more stories in the
works? What kinds of stories do you plan to write next?
I am working feverishly on a new book, “The
Fixin’ Place.” I’m loving it. If you can imagine a mashup between “To Kill a
Mockingbird,” Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt,” and a pinch of “The Green Mile,”
that’s where it seems to be headed. Reading that last sentence, I recognize it
makes no sense whatsoever. Again, I didn’t plan to blend these diverse tales,
but that’s just the way it’s working out. It does take place in the same
fictional town of St. Helena, Alabama, as did “Reign of Silence,” but that’s
really the only tie. The working title of the next one is “Knights of the Golden
Circle” (Google it if you’re not familiar with this actual organization), and
think about how that group from the Civil War would look and operate in the
21st century.
Who would be your first choice to play
Joshua Nix from your book "Reign of Silence"?
I’d like to see Chris Pine play Joshua Nix.
Really. But the more important role from a casting standpoint would be who
played Meredith Dubose. I’d pay good money to see Annasophia Robb play her.
She’d be just superb, me thinks.
If you could meet anyone from any time
who would it be and what would be your first question?
If I could meet any historical figure, it would
have to be Robert E. Lee. I’d ask “How, throughout the course of the War Between
the States, were you able to maintain your sense and call to

Friday, February 10, 2012

A prayer before writing.

Lord, I recognize that You are the giver of all good and perfect gifts. I acknowledge that You have placed me and kept me here on this earth for one purpose, a purpose that is unique to me. I surrender myself to what You have called me to do, and Your divine Providence will sustain me and direct me. May angel midwives congregate around me, assisting me as I give birth to what You have preordained. Let me bring forth what is in me for its own sake, not for what it can do for me or how it can advance my standing. Every breath I take, every heartbeat, every bit of my being is sustained by You. Help me understand that if I don't do my work, I hurt not only myself, but I hurt my family, my friends, the planet.

Make this tale live for us in all its many bearings, O God. Amen.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Old words, new life!

Since “Reign of Silence” has found a new life and audience through the miracle of Amazon and epublishing, I’ve had some questions crop up. I’m not going to do an itemized list, but here are some generalities I’d be pleased to share.
First, the book is NOT autobiographical. I am not Joshua Nix. A couple of the characters are loosely based on real-life folks, but most everyone in the cast are figments of my imagination, or composites of people I do know. Then, there are those characters like Precious who are totally generated out of the ether. I really like my characters, love the dialogue they have with each other, and have been mightily amused at how they react to each other and the otherworldy events facing them.
As for some of the incidents and setpieces in the book – some of those do have a basis in “fact,” sort of. I’ve always thrilled to a well-told ghost story, especially those that were told to me as truth. So, there are a couple of sequences in Reign of Silence that are part of my own family’s oral traditions.
About 2/3 of the way through writing the book, I came to realize that I was going to raise a lot of questions in my own mind that I had no possible way of answering. Some things are a mystery to me, for sure. If you haven’t read the book yet, I promise that you won’t be left with a “lady or the tiger” ending – it does resolve itself nicely, and I found the end very satisfying. But if you’re left with some nagging “theological” questions, that’s going to have to be OK. I had a seminary professor say once that you would spend your whole life hammering out your personal theology. Well, there just isn’t a lot in orthodox systematic theology that deals with ghosts and haunted houses. So a lot of what I wrote was intuitive from what I DID know.
I grant that telling a ghost story from a Christian perspective makes a lot of folks uncomfortable. I’d just like to say to my fellow believers that, as Christians, we HAVE to acknowledge the existence of a spirit world. How does that world intersect with the physical world? Aye, there’s the rub … and the foundation of the tale. Heh-heh-heh.
One other question that I’ve dealt with a good bit here lately: What authors are your inspiration? Well, Frank Peretti is an obvious call. When I read “This Present Darkness,” I thought – this dude has made an audacious attempt at telling a really scary tale – about modern day demons, no less - and pulled it off. Later, when I read “The Oath,” I was irritated because he took on a theme I’d been pondering – I’ve often wondered how “the sins of the fathers” would be visited on future generations. At the risk of being cast out into the outer darkness to spend eternity gnashing my teeth, I’d be amiss by not mentioning Steven King … I remember reading “Salem’s Lot” and being blown away by reading what I think King himself said was “Our Town with vampires.” Worked for me. My favorite book of his was “The Stand,” and I think it was because it had a nifty internal theology that put some real gravitas in the story. So did “The Green Mile.” You can rail against King’s subject matter and what might be considered offensive content, but that sucker can tell a story. I’m a big, big fan of Tolkein; but the biggest influence for me, perhaps, has been Harper Lee. “To Kill a Mockingbird,” both book and movie, are as close to flawless as storytelling can be. Lee bombarded us all with truth, but not in a heavy-handed way.
In a future blog, I do want to share with you how “Reign of Silence” was birthed, and detail the process of writing it. It was unique in my experience. This is my first stab at a novel – I’m kind of in awe of my fellow authors who turn out books weekly, it seems (as in “Book Seventeen of the Builder’s Chronicles Series”). There is a second book being hammered out right now, and a third outlined. Maybe it gets easier as you go along. I genuinely like the one I’m working on now. We’ll see.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Worship X 2

It's Sunday, and all over the world, Christians are assembling at any number of houses of worship. Sunday, of course, celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and whether you're a believer or not, reality is that a lot of folks DO believe.

From time to time, I frequent websites designed for atheists. It makes for intersting reading. One in particular that caught my attention on an atheist community board was when one member asked the question: "What influenced you to become an atheist?" Most of the answers dealt with the respondee's lack of evidence in a god, how religion is irrational, stuff like that. I "get" that. Fact is, in any matter of belief, there has to be a lot of faith involved, and it's a faith in something that doesn't obey the rules of the natural world. To be a Christian means that you have to accept the supernatural, that there is a world beyond ours, and that Christ, through the incarnation, bridged that gap between those two worlds. Sometimes, in discussions with agnostics (I don't personally know anyone who would call themselves an atheist), I want to say, "Most of us were born with open minds. Remember yours?" Because it just seems sensible that since no one possesses the entire sum of human knowledge that God might exist in that realm they know nothing of.

Some folks simply don't want to consider that, although I think that betrays a lack of intellectual curiosity. And there are plenty of gracious, well-meaning people who have genuinely searched for God and came up lacking. I'm not sure of the theology behind that - why some people just can't believe, but it does happen.

The other act of worship for many today will be the Super Bowl. My teams have been eliminated, and we're faced with a duel between two of the finest quarterbacks playing the game. Some folks (fans, short for "fanatic," of course) treat this as a high and holy moment, a gathering of true believers, and their very hearts and minds will be changed based on whether their team is victorious or not. Well, I'll admit to investing myself pretty seriously in my favorite teams, college or pro, but life always goes on. We're having a bunch of teenagers from church over tonight, and we'll have a great time. It's not worship, though.

Finally, check out "Reign of Silence" if you haven't already. It's out there for the Kindle, and you'll find that it's available at an attractive price point. And it's good, if you like that sort of thing.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Into the void!

Blogging has always seemed to be something of a vanity exercise to me, but I've come around to thinking, gee, if you have something to say that might be an encouragement to someone, go for it.

It's also an opportunity for shameless self-promotion, something I'm genetically uncomfortable doing, but here we go anyway.

It's like this: I have a great day job as an associate editor for a large Christian newsjournal. I have a background in local church student ministry - been at that for a lot of years. I'm also a magician, the fruit of a hobby that long since got out of hand. And, to my everlasting amazement, I'm an author of a novel that, at this writing, seems to be doing well in the wonderful world of e-publishing.

It's this last statement that has moved me into blogging. "Reign of Silence" was published back in 2005 by Xulon Press, and did ... OK. It's remained dormant for some time.

Then, in December of 2011, I decided to publish it for Kindle. And I swear, in January, it sold close to 2500 copies, almost twice what it had done in the years before. It was an epiphany for me.

So, I want to promote it some more, because it's a pretty good read. I don't know how to categorize it - is there such a thing as Christian paranormal fiction? Because it's a ghost story, told from an orthodox Christian worldview.

It's out there for you if you'd like to take a peek.

And (drum roll!) I am HARD. AT. WORK. at another novel that has me stepping back in amazement, because it almost seems like it's writing itself. I don't want to talk about it too much, because I'm afraid I'll jinx it, but I feel passionately about it, and I can't wait to share it.

Thus endeth Tony's first blog. Blessings!